10 Cats Who Made History

Oscar, the Grim Reaper
Oscar (not shown) has an uncanny knack for knowing when residents at a nursing home in Rhode Island are going to die. He sits on their bed until the event happens. Cindy Prina/Getty Images

At first, Oscar's gift seemed a bit creepy. The gray-and-white feline, raised in a dementia unit at Steere House Nursing and Rehabilitation Center in Rhode Island, could predict when residents were close to death, staying curled up in a ball beside them during their final hours. Some who learned about his gift likened Oscar to the Grim Reaper. But rehab center staff viewed his unusual abilities as a gift, as it gave them time to summon family members to the bedside of their loved ones. Plus, the residents had a comforting presence next to them as they readied to die, even if they weren't fully conscious.

Oscar was adopted by the facility from an animal shelter when he was a kitten; the hope was to raise him as a therapy cat. But he didn't really take to people, at least not those who were healthy. Instead, at about 6 months of age, he began making the rounds with the medical staff, heading into each room to sniff and observe the patients. If someone's death was imminent, he'd hop onto the bed and remain until he or she died, which was typically within four hours. By 2010, he had accurately forecast some 50 deaths and was better at predicting someone's death than the medical staff.

No one is certain how Oscar's gift works. Some theorize he can smell certain scents that humans can't; others posit he's learned something from the behaviors of the nurses at the center. But what is certain is this: Oscar has been thanked by families in obituaries; he's the subject of a book; and there's a wall plaque at the center commending him for his compassionate hospice care. Not bad for a shelter kitty [sources: Fox News, Goldsmith].